The Truth Behind the Tiger Kingdom
While pictures are worth a thousand words, they don’t always tell you the full story. Here’s why Asha Wadher regrets going to the Tiger Kingdom, and the real story behind those pictures – originally posted on medium.com.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Or is it?
Pictures and words by Asha Wadher
We’ve all seen photos of some lucky people cuddling and playing with tiger cubs. Ever since I saw those photos, I added it to my bucket list. The draw for me has always been my love, respect and adoration for these ferociously beautiful creatures. The cubs are insanely cute. And what a unique, once in a lifetime experience it would be to hold one of these incredible creatures in my arms!
Needless to say, I was overjoyed when I saw brochures for Thailand advertising this experience. Two places came up and I researched them both – The Tiger Temple and The Tiger Kingdom. Based on reviews, it seemed like the Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai was a better place to visit. Former visitors wrote that the place was well-kept, tigers had plenty of room to move around and the tigers were well taken care of. It has always bothered me to see animals in captivity. So I was relieved to read the reviews; but truthfully, I read what I wanted to read. Now that I semi-eliminated my guilt for visiting tigers in captivity, I was off and on my way.
We arrived. I was nervous. No matter all the cool pictures you see, the truth is, they are wild animals. Their switch could go off any time. And before you know it, you’re the prize for the tiger. I asked anyone and everyone if this was safe. They all reassured me that it was. You could choose to experience this with tigers of different sizes — smallest, small, large or big. Similar to renting a shirt! Still nervous, I thought I would take small steps. I opted for smallest. If that experience went well, then I planned on signing up for the big tiger experience.
And there I was — in the cage with three little tiger cubs, a photographer and a handler. Since pictures are worth a thousand words, I’ll let you read the story through photos below.
Can I get in on this action please?
Seriously, you want me to grab his tail?
Looks dreamy and fun. Looks like the tigers and I had a few “special moments” and had a blast together. Looks like we bonded and we’re kindred spirits. Sure, that’s what it looks like. But that’s not what actually happened. While photographs say a thousand words, they don’t always tell you the whole story. Here’s what the real experience was like …
It was 9am. The three cubs were already inside the cage. I entered nervously thinking they would rush to me as soon as I entered. And … nothing! They didn’t care that I was in the cage with them. They didn’t even notice me; or maybe they did, and dismissed me as soon as they saw me. They were too busy playing and roughing up each other. That was so much more fun than the possibility of interacting with me. I got up close to the cubs. It didn’t matter. They were too engrossed with the company of each other to take notice of me. So much for the “connection” that I had romanticized in my silly little head!
But I had paid for the “experience.” So the handler interrupted their play and pushed one of the cubs towards me while the photographer got busy capturing these “moments.” Later, the handler just dragged one of the cubs by his tail away from the other cubs and positioned it for another pose with me. It was all fake, for show and nothing more than picture taking opportunities. He dragged the cubs’ tail like it was no big deal. It wasn’t malicious. But it was clear that the handler had a comfort level and this was just how things are done. No different than picking up a broom. And yet, there was something inherently disrespectful about dragging the cub by its tail. Caged or not, big or small, it’s a tiger after all!
For giggles, check out the photos above again. Do you read a different story now that you know what actually happened?
A little confused and not sure what to make of the superficial experience so far, I thought to myself – I’m here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. So I might as well make the most of my trip. And it’s not like one gets to experience something like this every day. And so with that reasoning, I was headed to the ticket counter to buy my ticket for the big tiger experience. As I was making my way there, the photographer in me got distracted.
I saw a lion. It was sleeping on a table and was in a cage that hardly gave it room to move two steps. It was disturbing to see the King of the jungle locked up in a cubicle. I took some photos and stood there, trying to understand what this creature’s life may be like every day. While apologizing on behalf of myself and the human race, I walked away in shame and disappointment. Just a few steps away were several other cages. One of them caught my attention.
It was a beautiful white tiger in a cage that was just a hair bigger than the tiger itself. One of the attendants walked by and informed me that this tiger was a new arrival. He said it with pride and a child’s excitement when they receive a new toy. But just imagine what the tiger must be experiencing. It was free two days ago. And now, it finds itself in a cell that is smaller than small. You couldn’t really move much. I am sure that is a tactic used to break down the tiger’s spirit and begin the training process.
The tiger looked right at me, with empty eyes. And it continued to stare at me with hopelessness. My heart just sank. I am familiar with that look, and the feelings behind it. I could relate because I’ve been there before. This look spoke volumes and tore me apart. It said that I don’t belong here in this cage; this is not my home. You have stripped me away from the essence of what it is to be me, a Tiger. You have taken away my freedom, and ultimately, my soul. And the look in the tiger’s eyes was that of it giving up and succumbing to the desire of humans to dominate and control everything, and everyone, for our selfish pleasure, ego and profit.
That was it. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was upset at myself that I visited this place and supported it with my tourist dollars. And I should have known better. No more. I decided in that moment that I am not going to pay for the big tiger experience. I do not support this prison and will let my dollars do the talking. Also, let’s be clear. We can call these places with fancy and guilt free terms like Zoos, Temple or Sanctuary. That’s the magic of marketing; it’s the science of play on words. The truth is, these places are prisons and we should start by calling them exactly what they are – Prisons.
This is what the experience really looks like. It’s all staged. There is nothing romantic about this or what you may have dreamed of in your head. The tigers are probably sedated to a certain degree to ensure some safety. But guess what … an incident has occurred here. And no one talks about it! No one will dare tell you about it and how bad it was.
These animals are sentenced to prison for life. Their crime – they are beautiful and we love them too much! When you truly love someone, set them free.
Asha Wadher is a photographer, author and model. Her website can be found at https://twiztedmyrtle.com/
Take a look at our article on the Tiger Kingdom
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